One-Stop-Shops

City launches $52 million plan to turn 40 schools into service hubs

PHOTO: Facebook/New Settlement Community Center, Photo by Charles Chessler
M.S. 327 and P.S. 555 in the Bronx are housed in a state-of-the-art building where they provide support services and extra-curricular programs for students and their families. The city is planning to help 128 more schools offer similar services.

The city will spend $52 million in state funds over several years to convert 40 schools into community hubs with medical and dental services, nutrition and fitness programs, tutoring, job training, and other assistance for students and their families, officials announced Tuesday, roughly doubling the current number of such school-based hubs.

That first wave of schools will grow to 100 by 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised, as he joins policymakers around the country in seeking to boost student learning partly by attending to their needs beyond the classroom. The concept — which has been embraced by teachers unions, parent advocates, Governor Cuomo and President Obama — holds that when schools expand into service hubs, students become better prepared to learn, parents grow more invested in schools, and teachers can focus on teaching.

But even the plan’s proponents say it could pose some challenges for the city due to its ambitious scale and the fact that some schools can draw on limited space to host new services or nearby providers to offer them. Also, advocates insist that schools must pair these supports with excellent classroom instruction if they are to help students with the most needs catch up to their better-off peers.

“It’s a step forward to leveling the playing field,” said Emma Hulse, an organizer with the New Settlement Parent Action Committee, a Bronx parent group that has called for extra services as one way to lift the borough’s lowest-performing schools. “But long term, they’re going to have to invest really seriously in teaching and learning to be able to close the achievement gap.”

Any school can apply to the program, though to be eligible schools must be struggling with student attendance, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery said after a press conference Tuesday. The city will use a state education grant to supply each school with at least $300,000 annually for four years, depending on its size and needs, Buery said. Officials did not say how they will pay for 60 additional schools to become service hubs by 2018, as the mayor has pledged.

The United Way of New York City will help run the program, which will pay for a full-time coordinator at each school to determine what services are needed and which agencies can provide them on campus or nearby. Chancellor Carmen Fariña emphasized that parents will help choose the services, something that advocates have demanded. She noted that some community schools, as the hubs are known, stay open in the evening and on weekends, though she did not say if these schools will.

Some 40 schools currently act as community hubs, according to Buery, though some advocates count many more schools. Organizations such as the Harlem Children’s Zone and the Children’s Aid Society, which Buery previously headed, coordinate services at several of the schools, as does the city teachers union.

Governor Cuomo has set aside $15 million in competitive grants for schools to adopt community services, and the Obama administration has funded “Promise Neighborhoods” across the country where young people can access an array of services in and around their schools.

At the invitation of the United Federation of Teachers, de Blasio has visited a community school in Cincinnati, whose school district has embraced that model more completely than others. While the district has seen higher graduation and attendance rates since adopting the model, students that received support services last year made only modest test-score gains of between 1 and 3 percentage points.

De Blasio on Tuesday said he would gauge the impact of New York’s community schools by improvements in student health and attendance and parent engagement, not “a single set of test scores.”

“I think everyone knows I do not pray at the altar of high-stakes testing,” he said.

M.S. 327 Principal Manuel Ramirez said that extra supports have led to better student attendance and attitudes.
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
M.S. 327 Principal Manuel Ramirez said that extra supports have led to better student attendance and attitudes.

The city’s community schools plan features some elements that advocates requested, such as the service coordinators and a role for parents. But it falls short of the $500,000 per school that the advocates had sought and leaves out some academic supports they recommended, such as extra special-education resources and master teachers.

The goal of launching the program in 40 schools by this fall is an ambitious one, said Martin Blank, director of the Coalition for Community Schools, a national advocacy group that has advised the city on its plan. By contrast, Cincinnati has created 34 community schools after nearly a decade.

Some of the schools will have to search beyond their immediate surroundings to find service providers, Blank added.

“As New York’s demographics have shifted, the agencies aren’t always located where the need is,” he said.

What’s more, some of the schools with the most students who could benefit from extra supports have the least spare space to house on-site healthcare providers, counselors, and other specialists, experts said. Such schools may have to reconfigure their space to make room for the service providers.

M.S. 327 in the Bronx, the community school where Tuesday’s press conference was held, has not faced that challenge.

That school and an elementary, P.S. 555, are housed in a new $100 million complex that features a health clinic, dance studio, rooftop garden, and 75-foot swimming pool. The schools offer dance and swimming lessons, wellness workshops, college prep classes and more through the support of New Settlement Apartments, a nonprofit affordable-housing provider that helped pay for the complex and a service coordinator for the schools.

M.S. 327 Principal Manuel Ramirez said it is too soon to trace academic gains to the services, since the school has only been in the new building for two years, but student attendance and attitudes have already improved.

“And that makes it easier for us to teach the kids,” he said.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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